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Out-of-hours provider threatens to stop verifying deaths

GP practices face verifying all deaths that occur outside of core hours, after an out-of-hours provider said it would stop providing the service.

The Northern Doctors Urgent Care (NDUC) group said it was withdrawing the service from 1 August because of budget restraints, but has since been forced to rethink plans to cease verifying patient deaths after protests from local GPs.

In a letter to Cleveland LMC, the group said that death verification was not part of its contract and it would cease providing the service from 1 August.

But Pulse has learned the out-of-hours provider has since backpedalled on the plans after the local LMC warned it would result in unreasonable daytime work’ for local practices.

The letter from the NDUC group said: ‘We have an overriding duty to the living and we must ensure our resources are allocated according to our contract.

‘We can confirm that we are not contracted to verify death and we are giving notice of a withdrawal of service of out-of-hours GP verification of death, which will be rescinded from 1 August 2012.’

The NDUC said it would be the responsibility of GPs to verify death in normal working hours.

Minutes from the July meeting of Cleveland LMC warned such a move would cause ‘unreasonable daytime work’ for GPs and members of the LMC raised concerns that the NDUC did not have sufficient doctors on duty.

The LMC said: ‘Bereaved patients will suffer and GPs – not NDUC – will be blamed for the lack of service.’

But a spokesperson from the NDUC said the group had not yet withdrawn the service.

He said: ‘We are currently in discussions with the North East Primary Care Services Agency and the primary care trust about the NDUC delivering services over and above our agreed commissioned services including verification of deaths, which would normally be carried out by other organisations.

‘Until these discussions have concluded, the NDUC will continue to verify deaths. We would like to reassure patients that their safety is always our top priority.’

Dr Daniel Donovan, chair of the Cleveland LMC and a GP in Middlesbough, said he had written a letter to NDUC, but had yet to get a formal response.

He said: ‘People were anxious and concerned at the LMC meeting on the impact it would have on the public. Most GPs if somebody dies will leave a waiting room full of people to go and comfort the bereaved. The idea that people would not have that concerned the LMC.’